An Open Letter to President Barack Obama

If it is a right policy on Cuba so is for Eritrea
If it is a right policy on Cuba so is for Eritrea

Dear President Obama,

LAST December the people of the United States have witnessed an historic moment which gives them yet another opportunity to contemplate on the stark dichotomy in the complex dynamic of the US global role played by its various state institutions. The stunning US Senate Intelligence Committee Report on the CIA has barely been digested by the general public before you announced a water shed policy change towards Cuba.

Mr. President, allow me to add my humble appreciation along the millions of Cubans whose lives have been impacted over generations and along those from all corners of the globe who seek and/or struggle for justice, peace and freedom. Many notable US-Cuba observers have also been expressing their appreciation, albeit with guarded optimism.

I read and reread your speech on the new Cuba policy and have tempered my skeptic side especially after coming across the line quoting Jose Marti, which, I believe expresses your honest disposition: “‘Liberty is the right to be honest’. Today I am being honest with you.”

Mr. President, your speech on the new Cuba policy contains several points that I believe are relevant and applicable to other regions and countries which find themselves at the receiving end of a misguided and/or outdated US policy. One of those countries is Eritrea, a relatively new nation, despite all the odds it has been facing, is striving to assert itself among the community of free nations.

The Eritrean question or cause may not be as widely known as that of Cuba nor does Eritrea has close proximity to the United States, but there are many parallels, albeit indirect, in the nature and genesis of the conflicts between the United States and Eritrea. In making such comparison, the Senate report, which basically highlights the modus operandi of the CIA, makes it more conspicuous. However, I prefer to focus more on your speech which promises to “making these changes, because it is the right thing to do.

The original sin, so to speak, in the relationships between the US and Eritrea has its roots during the crucial transitional period after the Second World War when the Eritrean question regarding its rights to self-determination was discussed and “finalized” among the great powers of that time. In 1952 the then Secretary of State John Foster Dulles in plain and atypically honest statement laid the stand of the United States:

From the point of view of justice, the opinions of the Eritrean people must receive consideration. Nevertheless, the strategic interests of the United States in the Red Sea Basin and considerations of security and world peace make it necessary that the country (Eritrea) has to be linked with our ally, Ethiopia

Mr. President, many of your officials who have been actively engaged with the Eritrea file, were not even born when Eritreans peacefully sought for their national rights before they raised arms in 1961. One may rationalize such a wrong policy in terms of the Cold War politics; yet, contrary to the pronouncement of Sec. Foster Dulles, it did not achieve its objectives. Ethiopia with the tacit approval of the US and its allies illegally annexed Eritrea in 1962 triggering a long and bitter thirty year war. Besides, Ethiopia which came at the brink of disintegration fell into the Soviet camp.

Nevertheless, Eritrea after threading a unique model of independence struggle which left her allied to neither the US nor the Soviet Union became independent. It was a feat by a relatively small self-reliant nation which was deemed by many to be wiped off the map restored its right to self-determination and eventually joined the community of free nations in 1993.

It was a period when the Cold war was finally over and many around the globe hoped for the dawning of a new era, a new world order where the industrially developed nations could start to ease themselves out of economic militarism and set in earnest new policies geared to the realization of social justice and peace across the globe. Now, after almost a quarter of a century, many disillusioned observers believe that the US has squandered a golden opportunity to use its power and influence to lead in building a new global era of peace, justice and freedom which also values cultural diversity across the globe.

It was in that spirit that Eritrea in 1991 put its best foot forward to contributing with a clean slate for peace and development side by side its former enemies, colonizers and detractors. Indeed, Eritrea based on its principles and values did help in stabilizing our region, a contribution which among others, certain quarters within the US state institutions recognized and appreciated well before an incident as catastrophic as that of 911 hit home at the heart of the US. As a matter of fact, immediately after, a high Eritrean military delegation was officially invited to the Pentagon to share its experience and capabilities of fighting terrorism and what not.

In retrospect, one wonders if the 911 tragedy could have been averted had the national security advisors in President Clinton’s administration, Mr. Anthony Lake among them, heeded the warning of Eritrea in 1994 of the threat by the Bin Laden group which unpleasantly surprised America four years after it was effectively pushed out of the Horn of Africa region and established new bases in Afghanistan.

Through its various state institutions and agencies, the US has been playing a prominent role in the so called border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia that broke in 1998. Among others, its officially designated “mediator“ Mr. Anthony Lake who sat through key peace negotiations between Eritrea and Ethiopia is reported to have drafted the Algeries Peace Treaty of 2003. As a matter of fact, with the passage of time, it has now become clear that Mr. Anthony Lake and all the US officials engaged with the conflict have been playing by non-other than the old script of the fifties that resulted only in wars and displacements.

I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result.

As such, suffice to mention the latest Senate Intelligence Committee Report on the CIA as a reference to find out the thrust behind the devolution of the Ethio-Eritrea war and the staling of the implementation of the Algeries Peace Treaty by the totally dependent Ethiopian state now dubbed as an ally in the fight against terrorism!!

Mr. President, as regards the repealing of the designation of Cuba as a sponsor of terrorism you said:

… I’ve instructed Secretary Kerry to review Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. This review will be guided by the facts and the law. Terrorism has changed in the last several decades. At a time when we are focused on threats from al Qaeda to ISIL, a nation that meets our conditions and renounces the use of terrorism should not face this sanction

Whatever the phrase “a nation that meets our conditions” implies, any nation that renounces the use of terrorism and abides by its words should not face any designation to that effect. Ironically, Eritrea whose impeccable record on this issue goes way beyond mere denunciation and platitudes has been unjustly slapped with such a designation, a subterfuge that has now become a subject of embarrassment to those who were misled into giving their uninformed consent in favor of placing the illegal sanction against Eritrea. As President Isaias Afeworki in his New Year interview on the state of the nation put it mildly:

The good thing is many of them say that they misunderstood the way the sanction was engineered at the time it was decided. They claim that it was a wrong decision. The fact that there is nobody who feels that the sanction was a right decision is a considerable advantage providing us with diplomatic upper hand.

Mr. President, again suffice to refer to the latest Senate Intelligence Committee Report on the CIA to find out how this preposterous and unjust sanction could have been placed through the UNSC at the wee hours of Christmas Eve of 2009.

From the tone and substance of your speech I wouldn’t interpret the term, “a nation that meets our conditions” as one that despite its incontrovertible record of successfully solving the challenges posed by violent extremist groups has to follow policy instructions that are not only doomed to fail but also impact a large segment of the targeted populations. In fact, Eritrea had tried to facilitate venues of reconciliation among the concerned Somali factions and opposed to the dispatching of the Ethiopian army to destroy the “moderate” Islamic Courts which had managed to stabilize their troubled Somali nation. Well, the outcome is now clear for all to see as Al-Shabaab got strong foothold in Somalia and extended its operations to the neighboring countries. Among other things, Eritrea had argued that a problem that could be solved through Interpol mechanisms need not be conflagrated by dispatching an invading army.

Mr. President, again my humble appreciation to your admitting the heavy toll nations pay as a result of US policies that inadvertently or not induce chaos.

I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result. Moreover, it does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse. Even if that worked -– and it hasn’t for 50 years –- we know from hard-earned experience that countries are more likely to enjoy lasting transformation if their people are not subjected to chaos

Despite the myriad hostilities that Eritrea has been subjected to for the last 15 years, thanks to its history of resilience it has not turned into a chaotic state as some had actively anticipated; obviously, there has been a negative impact on its economic and to some degree on its political development. Such setback has been exaggerated and misconstrued to demonize a nation and its leadership to the extent of falsely implicating it with human trafficking —using similar deceptive tools they used to place the now discredited sanction.

Mr. President in your 2012 speech on human trafficking at The Clinton Global Initiative, you said:

I recently renewed sanctions on some of the worst abusers, including North Korea and Eritrea. We’re partnering with groups that help women and children escape from the grip of their abusers. We’re helping other countries step up their own efforts.”

Again, suffice to refer to the essence of the latest Senate Intelligence Committee Report to find out how such presentations are assembled and made to reach various organizations and authorities including the office of the President of the United States. Obviously, the consequences of the measures taken based on manufactured facts have been impacting many of lives, if not nations.

Mr. President, setting aside the ways and means of its implementation and realization, I believe the most salient point of your speech gets into the crux of the conflict.

… We can never erase the history between us, but we believe that you should be empowered to live with dignity and self-determination. Cubans have a saying about daily life: “No es facil” –- it’s not easy. Today, the United States wants to be a partner in making the lives of ordinary Cubans a little bit easier, more free, more prosperous

Broadly speaking, “human rights” in any given society ought to evolve as a result of the empowerment of people to live in dignity and self-determination not by coercion or imposition.

Mr. President, indeed nations have to be empowered to live with dignity, dignity as in respecting their values and letting them evolve without unwarranted intrusion that usually leads to chaos and with self-determination as in refraining from selectively adjudicating their quality of democracy as they build their institutions.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. now celebrated as a national icon was actually marginalized and isolated towards the end of his life because he comprehensibly pointed out to the contradictions that drifted the United States away from its promises and declared values. He elaborated that not only racism but poverty and militarism are also anathema to any sense of justice or human rights. What would Dr. Martin Luther say if he was alive today?

Mr. President there is no illusion as to the easy realization of all those lofty objectives which you mentioned in your speech; yet it takes determination and courage to at least start making an honest introspection among the political class and stir the US policy objectives to:

…making changes because it is the right thing to do. ..to cut loose the shackles of the past so as to reach for a better future –- for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere, and for the world.

Like the people of Cuba, Eritrea , a can-do nation marches on with resilience to its destiny, humbly and quietly demonstrating its capabilities and potential in making positive changes in our region; above all, it can contribute significantly if engaged with dignity as a sovereign state and respect to its holistic nation building endeavors.

Respectfully Yours,

Haile-Ab Luul Tesfai
January 20, 2015